Following Abe’s election, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia would secede in the following weeks. These states formed the Confederate States of America (CSA) and declared themselves an independent nation. Upon entering office, Abe was faced with the most pressing crisis in the history of the young nation.
Abe’s road to the White House was not easy either. According to some accounts, he had to ride through Baltimore on a secret train in disguise to evade would-be assassins on his way to inauguration in Washington. After Abe’s inauguration, the Confederacy continued to mobilize. It elected Jefferson Davis as president and set up its capital headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama. War was eminent.
As war approached, President Lincoln sent provisions to American forts that were now in Confederate territory, including Fort Sumter, near Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Secessionists in South Carolina considered this an act of war and began bombarding the fort on April 12, 1861. Union forces at Fort Sumter surrendered and thus, the American Civil War began. On April 15, Abe requested the mobilization of 75,000 troops from the states for the purposes of “preserving the Union.” In the following days, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Virginia seceded from the Union, refusing to mobilize against their southern neighbors. The secession of Virginia, one of the most populous states in the country, was a major prize for the Confederacy. To reward it, the Confederate capital was moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.
Managing the War
As Union troops descended from Massachusetts to the nation’s capital, pro-secession residents of Baltimore, Maryland attacked Union soldiers and destroyed railroads linking Washington to the north. In response, President Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus in Maryland, allowing the Government to arrest suspected perpetrators and keep them in jail indefinitely without a trial or conviction. He also authorized the blockades of southern ports. During this difficult time, Abe was also suffering depression likely caused by the stresses of the war, the death of his son Willie, and the increasingly erratic behavior of his mourning wife.
Later in 1861, Abe endured an embarrassing and potentially dangerous episode, when the British ship Trent was intercepted by the Union Navy in the Atlantic Ocean. Two Confederate agents on their way to England and France were seized and brought back to America as prisoners. Although the American public was in full support of the illegal seizure, England considered it an act of war. Eventually, Lincoln was compelled to release the Confederate agents to avert the British threat. Despite the demands of England, however, Abe never issued a formal apology and hostilities between England and America died.
Abe had other things to worry about as well. Union forces had been routed in the war’s first major battle at Manassas, just thirty miles west of Washington. This was a major blow to the morale of the North, which underestimated the resolve and fight of the Confederacy. After the devastation at Manassas, Abe realized the war would not end any time soon. Throughout 1861 and much of 1862, Abe became dissatisfied with the progress of the war and turned his attention to leadership in the major branch of the Union Army, the Army of the Potomac. Early in 1862, Lincoln replaced War Secretary Simon Cameron with Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton would prove an excellent choice. His tireless work effort and superb managerial skills helped organize the massive military efforts of the Union.
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